A National Labor Relations Board complaint this week suggests the Chipotle Mexican Grill at the Marketplace at Augusta reopen and rehire its former workers. Workers are seen in June after Brandi McNease, far right, dropped off a letter about starting a union at the restaurant. The restaurant was closed soon after. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal file

AUGUSTA — A National Labor Relations Board complaint alleges Chipotle Mexican Grill broke the law when it closed its Augusta location as workers there sought to form a union, and when it then refused to hire those workers at another Chipotle location.

One of the proposed remedies to fix the situation, the Nov. 3 board complaint indicates, would be to reopen the Augusta location, rehire its former workers with back pay and recognize the union by bargaining with those employees.

But, would those employees who suddenly lost their jobs when they tried to make Augusta the first Chipotle location in the country to unionize go back?

Some say yes. Others, no.

Brandi McNease, the lead organizer for the union employees had formed, Chipotle United, said she would definitely go back to work at the Augusta store despite Chipotle closing the store July 19, the same day a hearing was scheduled to be held on a petition workers filed seeking to unionize.

“I would absolutely go back,” McNease said one day after learning the National Labor Relations Board had filed a wide-ranging complaint against Chipotle. “We started unionizing because we liked it there. Chipotle would be a great place to work if they just maintained their own standards. If the in-store management wants to be standoffish about it, that’s up to them. But it only benefits them to have a healthy and well-run crew.”


Arrow Smith and her partner, Ethan Watts, both former Augusta Chipotle crew members and now members of Chipotle United’s union organizing committee, would both return to their jobs should the Augusta site reopen.

“Absolutely, and I think most employees would,” Smith said of whether they would go back to work at the restaurant. “Chipotle markets themselves as having integrity, and honesty. If we go back with a union, we’d have more than a fair shot of making that happen. There are so many benefits of being able to go back and work with everybody again, and help Chipotle become the company they say they are.”

But some employees say they’ve moved on with their lives and gotten other, better jobs.

Nearly four months after the Chipotle Mexican Grill in the Marketplace at Augusta closed, signage as been removed from the storefront and brown paper hung inside the windows conceals the interior. The company may be forced to reopen the Augusta location following allegations that it violated the National Labor Relations Act.

“I don’t think I would go back, I have a job now that I like, I work the schedule I need, and I make more an hour,” said former Chipotle crew member Nicholas Dunton, who now works as a digital shopper at Walmart. “I don’t feel like it’d be the same going back, I feel like they might be mad, it’d just be awkward. I feel for everyone who worked there. But from the people I’ve stayed in touch with, everyone has moved on and they’re happier. I don’t want to live in the past.”

Dunton said he still thinks it was the right thing to do for employees to stand up to the company, first by walking out of the job and demanding the company address safety concerns including a lack of adequate staffing, then forming a union.

“I think you need to do stuff like this to get people to wake up and listen,” he said. “I’m proud of everybody. I just think, for me, it was not healthy to hang on that long.”


Laurie Schalow, chief corporate affairs officer for the nationwide company, said Thursday it would “vigorously defend ourselves on this matter,” adding, “closing the Chipotle restaurant in Augusta, Maine, had nothing to do with union activity.”

She said the Augusta site was closed after management “reviewed this situation as it would any other restaurant with these unique staffing challenges.”

A sign seen on the door of the former Chipotle Mexican Grill in the Marketplace at Augusta on Friday indicates the restaurant is “permanently closed.” The company may be forced to reopen the Augusta location following allegations that it violated the National Labor Relations Act. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Officials of the Marketplace at Augusta, the mall development where Chipotle was located, declined to comment on whether the old, now-vacant, Chipotle location was still available or had another tenant coming in. The Chipotle sign that once adorned the storefront has been removed since the restaurant closed four months ago, brown paper hung inside the windows now conceals the interior space and a flyer on the door alerts passersby that the restaurant is “permanently closed.”

It’s not guaranteed that the Augusta location will reopen, or that workers will get the restitution the NLRB calls for. The outcome will ultimately be decided by an administrative law judge, who will likely hear the case at some point next year. The judge’s decision can then be appealed.

Meanwhile, Chipotle has until Nov. 17 to respond to the allegations in the compliant.

The former workers said the NLRB agreeing to take up the case by filing the complaints based on their allegations is a significant step but likely to face a legal fight. A fight they’re up for.


“It’s not over and of course the lawyers are going to push this and delay and mess around in court,” McNease said. “It’s still a long road but the fact the labor board is on our side in this case makes it possible for any other place that wants to consider unionizing to do that, and not everyone will lose their job.”

McNease said a new group, the Maine Labor Alliance, helped with their efforts and has grown out of the dispute and will seek to get more union representation in the food service industry in Maine.

The complaint alleges the company broke the National Labor Relations Act by essentially blacklisting the Augusta workers by preventing them from applying for vacancies at other Chipotles in Maine, including one in Auburn, where both McNease and Watts applied for jobs, but were rejected.

Smith said some have asked why the Augusta Chipotle workers didn’t just quit working there and find other jobs. She said they stayed there, and many of them are willing to go back even now, to try to make a positive change at a place where they enjoyed working with each other, if the restaurant management is required to live up to the ideals it professes to hold.

Quitting, Smith said, “doesn’t change anything, with everybody still being exploited. The accountability is coming and we aren’t going away anytime soon.”

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